Across the United States, and the world, the coronavirus seems to be loosening its stranglehold. The deadly curve of cases, hospitalizations and deaths has yo-yoed before, but never has it plunged so steeply and so fast.

Is this it, then? Is this the beginning of the end? After a year of being pummeled by grim statistics and scolded for wanting human contact, many Americans feel a long-promised deliverance is at hand.

Americans will win against the virus and regain many aspects of their pre-pandemic lives, most scientists now believe. Of the 21 interviewed for this article, all were optimistic that the worst of the pandemic is past. This summer, they said, life may begin to seem normal again.

But — of course, there’s always a but — researchers are also worried that Americans, so close to the finish line, may once again underestimate the virus.

So far, the two vaccines authorized in the United States are spectacularly effective, and after a slow start, the vaccination rollout is picking up momentum. A third vaccine is likely to be authorized shortly, adding to the nation’s supply.

But it will be many weeks before vaccinations make a dent in the pandemic. And now the virus is shape-shifting faster than expected, evolving into variants that may partly sidestep the immune system.

The latest variant was discovered in New York City only this week, and another worrisome version is spreading at a rapid pace through California. Scientists say a contagious variant first discovered in Britain will become the dominant form of the virus in the United States by the end of March.

The road back to normalcy is potholed with unknowns: how well vaccines prevent

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